For some small private establishments struggling to survive coronavirus lockdowns in China, government “aid” came in the form of beating, looting, and intimidation.
by Zhang Feng
Yuan Yong (pseudonym) is blind. To earn a living, he runs a small massage business. On February 11, officials from the Industry and Commerce Bureau stormed into his workspace and ordered to close the shop because of the coronavirus outbreak. When he started explaining that he will not be able to survive without his work, the officials beat him up. They then called the police, who punched Yuan more before taking him to a station.
“One police officer punched me in the face, kicked me, and then struck me on the back with a stick,” Yuan remembered. The police ordered him to sign a statement, promising to submit to the government’s demands. He was only released when his village chief guaranteed for him.
Angered by the incident, Yuan called an international radio station to recount his ordeal. Because his phone was monitored, the police took him to the local Public Security Bureau two days later.
During the interrogation, Yuan stated that the Chinese Constitution provided for the freedom of speech, everyone is equal before the law, and no one can override it. He added that China must be transformed to achieve democracy and freedom for the news media.
The officers became speechless with rage. They summoned Yuan’s father and warned that his son would be sent to prison if he doesn’t persuade him to stop making “irresponsible calls” and “sharing irresponsible remarks.” Since the father was also threatened to be implicated, Yuan pledged his loyalty to the government, declaring that, “The Communist Party is good, and I would not be what I am without it.”
“I would have been arrested and sentenced if I were not blind,” Yuan believes. “I’ve completely lost confidence in this government. In China, people can’t reason with the authorities.
In late March, seven members of the epidemic prevention and control group in a county administered by Zhumadian city in the central province of Henan stormed into an apparel store. Such groups, consisting of personnel from the Industry and Commerce Bureau, the police, and other government departments, were formed to ensure lockdown measures during the coronavirus outbreak. Using loudspeakers, the officers ordered all customers to leave the premises and told the owner to close the store. Afterward, they looted over a dozen pieces of name-brand clothes, which the owner later retrieved after paying 2,000 RMB (about $ 280) in bribes.
A few days later, two officers returned to the store, each put on a suit, and left without paying. The owner did not dare to say anything, fearing further harassment from the government. “I have lost up to 30,000 RMB (about $ 4,200) this month because of the lockdown,” he told Bitter Winter. “On top of that, these officers looted my goods. I can’t afford to run my business.”
On February 18, six government officials stormed into a family-run supermarket in the county and threatened to punish its owner for staying open during the lockdown. The woman got on her knees, pleading not to punish her. When her mother-in-law intervened, the officers pushed and tugged her. They then started piling merchandise into their vehicles, while threatening to call the police to arrest the entire family. The officers left only after the husband gave them some more merchandise.
In late February, the owner of another supermarket in the county was allowed to stay open only after giving bribes to the local Industry and Commerce Bureau. “I would have had to close otherwise,” the owner explained.